Schubert Ensemble, Norwich

The recital by the Schubert Ensemble at the John Innes Centre, Colney, reinforced one's opinion of them as one of the finest piano quartets.

By FRANK CLIFF

Saturday's excellent recital by the Schubert Ensemble at the John Innes Centre, Colney, reinforced one's opinion of them as one of the finest piano quartets.

Their repertoire was French – Ravel and Fauré – save for a work by Judith Weir, which nevertheless bore a French title, “Blanche comme la neige”.

Commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble and first performed at last year's Cheltenham Festival, the longer first movement (as the composer explained) explores the sonorities of different groupings of instruments. It seemed less taut than her usual writing – unlike the second movement, a concise set of variations on a folk song, which give the work its title about a girl who falls dead after a threat to her honour then reappears as a ghost. Weir's sparse and effective scoring creates a haunting atmosphere, magically reproduced by the ensemble.


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Their sensitive musicianship and fine technique were displayed in an impeccable reading of Ravel's piano trio, William Howard's mastery of the virtuoso piano part unruffled by a minor incident which served to demonstrate the dangers inherent in the job of page turner.

If there is a tendency for the piano to dominate in the fireworks of the last movement of the Ravel, the less confrontational scoring of Fauré's first piano quartet brought a beautifully-balanced performance, notable for its rich lyrical string-playing, to conclude this fine recital.

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